Fighting Attention inflation: Why we must pay attention to how we pay attention

In 2024, make a resolution to use your focus to help fight the information war

Fighting Attention inflation: Why we must pay attention to how we pay attention

This is a guest post from FrameLab friend Jason Sattler. Jason is LOLGOP on Twitter and pretty much any other social media platform you get sucked into. His writing has appeared in USA TODAY,, the New York Daily News and Alternet.


You could be reading anything, but you’re reading this.

And if you’re reading this, you’re probably someone who enjoys, or at least feels driven by your brain, to be on the frontlines of the information war — the digital battlefield where moral warfare is waged at all hours of every day, on Facebook, on TikTok, and on the twelve different wannabe Twitters you may have joined since Elon wrecked the real one.

That means you’re likely an invaluable part of the one-third of America who stays tuned into politics, no matter how many eyelashes it makes you want to yank out. You may even be in the 9% of this county who can name all five rights protected by the First Amendment.

While what most of us read, write and share won’t ever have the reach or influence of a billionaire with a Super PAC, a cable news network, or his own political party, it all matters.

Especially to our family and friends.

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In aggregate, it may even matter more than what’s on the front page of The New York Times. You know, the place where they put all the news about the extraordinary danger of Hillary using her home email at work.

In a recent YouGov poll, respondents said that “friends and family” are the only source of news about elections most Americans trust at least a fair amount. If you dig into the poll, you find that most self-identified Democrats also trust the news media, while less than a quarter of Republicans do. But almost everyone trusts their loved ones more than any other news source.

As someone who follows politics, you know that people’s answers about their own behavior are not entirely reliable. But that people say they trust their friends and family for election news over the media clearly reflects two undeniable realities in modern American politics.

  1. Republicans have succeeded in the half-century effort to break any sense of consensus in American life by appealing to moral frames of their audience.
    They’ve done this by casting perpetual doubt on mainstream media, summoning doubt with their own news that enacts the bias they pretend to see elsewhere and, more recently, by ensuring social media is an open sewer for misinformation, disinformation and hate.
  2. The opinions and insights of those following the news closely play an outsized role in shaping our political conversation.

This has led to a situation that can only be called Attention Inflation. What we share matters more than ever. But much of the information we soak in is overblown, confused, or just useless.

And like the inflation we’ve seen in our economy, it’s largely the result of corporatist interests doing the best to monopolize markets and gouge us. But unlike economic inflation, which has been improving pretty much all year, Attention Inflation is likely to get worse.

The slow death of network TV and hometown newspapers will only speed up. There’s also the fragmented social media landscape that’s likely to become even more niche and targeted as superhuman algorithms learn what we click on and only give us that.

And then there’s the purposeful jacking of our attention, epitomized by two trolls so interested in shifting brains through their posts that they now have their own social networks just to do that – the aforementioned Elon Musk and Donald Trump.

If you know the name LOLGOP at all, you almost certainly know me from the old Twitter. I’ve watched a platform that gave me a pinkyhold in our political life has become a right-wing oligarch's Death Star designed to amplify and spread the worst hate on earth.

To many, the death of Twitter just looks like what happens when an overgrown rich kid buys a toy (or casino) he doesn’t understand and breaks it. But as someone tuned into politics, you know how important the platform has been for journalism, activism and independent creators of all types — all essential forces for progress that make democracy more sustainable.

And you know the pleasure Musk takes in purposefully assaulting the forces of equality and progress, which he calls the “Woke Mind Virus,” aiding racists and authoritarians everywhere — especially the bigoted authoritarian who is waging literal war on Ukraine.

And Musk has succeeded in deteriorating far more than just his own platform.

Though Twitter has always been one of the smaller big social media sites, it has played an outsized role in shaping our conversation mostly because most of the people who shape public opinion, especially writers, spent inordinate amounts of time on the platform.

Now they’re bouncing from platform to platform chasing relevance and losing any sense of cohesion — right as the news is more dizzying than ever.

Who among us can be expected to track the former president’s indictments for 91 felony counts, his civil fraud trial, his defamation and battery judgements and his racketeering charges in Georgia, not to mention his golf deal with the Saudis, his son-in-law’s two billion dollar deal with the Saudis, and all his former lawyers’ lawsuits and plea deals?

Then there’s the antics of the Republicans in office — from trying to erase abortion rights victories in Ohio to banning books to House Republicans constantly kniving each other in the back. And then there’s Gaza, AI, and Taylor Swift’s every move.

No one can keep up. And that is part of the plan.

Trump ally and pardon receiver Steve Bannon once described his strategy as “Flood the zone with sh*t.” And the oceans of sh*t are rising.

That’s why what we pay attention to matters more than ever — not just to us but to those we love. We have to spend our focus wisely.

We can drown in the excrement spewed at us. Or we can take in and share out frames that help everyone understand the kind of mental warfare going on. We can use our footholds to lift up good candidates, campaigns and journalism with the people who trust us most. And we can refuse to feed the trolls who feast on our attention to grow even larger and more distracting.

What we can’t do is pretend it doesn’t matter.

Jason Sattler is LOLGOP on Twitter and pretty much any other social media platform you get sucked into. His writing has appeared in USA TODAY,, the New York Daily News and Alternet.

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